lesson learned

09/19/2016

My first job out of college was with a company that currently employs more than 375,000 human beings. Since disconnecting from the Matrix, my professional life has been organized around much smaller (and often distributed) teams. I’ve had great managers, hard-working teammates, and wise mentors. But none of this prepared me for a head-on collision with my own ignorance last year as the diversity panel where I was speaking drew to a close.

When the floor opened for questions, a woman asked about how she should deal with a (male) manager who had demonstrated sexist behavior. A woman on the panel responded first, and I was surprised by the emphasis on carefully navigating the politics and considering the repercussions of speaking up.

By contrast, I encouraged her to immediately contact HR. And as it turns out, my response illustrated the problem. As a man, I benefit from the patriarchal structure of most work environments. I’ve never had to worry about my opinion being discounted, I’ve never had to assume secretarial duties in meetings, and I’ve never felt harassed or uncomfortable in work environments because of my gender.

Horror stories from women who had reached out to HR under similar circumstances spilled from the audience. I was appalled to learn how common it is for women to experience vicious professional repercussions. The topic ignited the previously subdued crowd, and the ensuing conversation had to be curtailed to clear the stage for the following panel.

I failed to spot my own male privilege despite being a black man surrounded by strong and outspoken feminists. I had the luxury of being oblivious. That’s a humbling thought for me.

This is why we publish so much writing by women in Abernathy. Sometimes the most important thing we (as men) can do with the microphone is to pass it.

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from last week’s newsletter. Subscribe here for full and early access.

For Toys R Us Kids

08/19/2016

Funny how songs and jingles stick with you over the years. Toying with post titles just now, I thought about the video above and the memories it brought back. I recall enormous portions of my time and thinking being taken up by what I wanted for Christmas when I was a kid.

I’d collect the circulars from the Sunday paper and make a detailed mental wish list of the things I wanted. I’d familiarize myself with the details and specs and versions of whatever it was that had my attention, and I would submit my requests to the appropriate governing body (smile).

What am I talking about? I’m talking about growing up.

Specifically, what I wanted to be when I grew up. My earliest professional aspiration was that of a marine biologist. I think that was a pretty popular selection for young, starry-eyed elementary school kids without much exposure to what life has to offer.

Alas, I never pursued this aquatic vocation. And the next real professional aspiration I had, amusingly, was self-employment. I knew I wanted to work for myself, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I got a job. And you might know how that went…

I’m 31 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m not sure I ever will. But I’ve been steadily crossing terrible ideas and people off the list over the last few years.

I’m in a bit of a professional transition right now wherein I see the confluence of opportunity timing and resources in a way that gives me a lot of optimism about the weeks and months to come.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting on a diversity panel at the [email protected] Culture Conference. A dear friend recommended me for the remaining spot they had available for the panel when he heard that they were looking for someone else to add.

It turned out to be a home run for me in the sense that I was 1) sitting alongside folks I’d love to be working with and 2) able to share many of my observations and perspectives with an audience that wasn’t used to hearing them presented in the way that I shared them. The panel was well-received, and the conference was one of the most thoughtfully curated events I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.

Next month, I’ll be presenting at Responsive Conference in Berkeley, California. It’ll be my first time in the Bay Area (!) which I shared in today’s Abernathy newsletter.

The details:

What: Responsive.org Conference: The Future of Work
When: September 19-20, 2016
Where: Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, CA

I think I’m going to simply plagirize myself and share what I sent out in the newsletter to which I linked:

Confession: I’ve never been to the Bay Area.

If you don’t work in tech, this probably doesn’t matter to you, but trust me—I’m risking my street cred by admitting this publicly. The good news is two-fold:

  1. In exactly one month, I’ll be speaking at Responsive Conference in Berkeley, California.
  2. If you’d like to meet me there, and you’d like a 15% discount on tickets, today is the last day for the early bird discount.

I don’t take it lightly that I have the privilege and honor of bringing this message to audiences that look nothing like me, whose lived experiences are nothing like mine. Paradoxically, I think the differences in our experiences help us understand the ways in which we can come together.

I’m not sure how to proceed with the important work of healing and reconciliation and empowerment without healthy doses of compassion and empathy (my guiding principles). I’ll get off my soapbox, but I’ll be back on it when I present next month.

One of the reasons I agreed to speak is because the event won’t just be people on stage sharing TED Talk ideas that everyone in the audience will agree with. On the contrary, attendees and speakers will be engaging with complex problems and coming up with solutions. Tech, complexity, diversity, and real conversations? That’s my kinda party.

[If the link above doesn’t work, the code for the 15% discount is Responsiveorg.]

The most important thing to note is that the 15% discount expires at the end of the day, so get to clicking if you want to take advantage of that discount.

I’ll write a followup post either here or on Abernathy (you’re subscribed, right?) or both about the experience, but I’d love to see you in Cali if you’ll be around.

This post has been a meandering exercise in stating something pretty simple: sometimes you have to make it up, in public, and sometimes you have a chance to add value while you do that. Let’s make it up together, shall we?

Well, together but separate. (I’m mostly an introvert. Mostly.)

A rather amusing set of concerns often befall the budding entrepreneur as they imagine fame, fortune, and scaling.

I’ve gotta be careful — I don’t want too many customers…

I heard that if you incorporate in Delaware or Florida…

Would you mind signing an NDA?

While we’re busy making sure our certain success doesn’t overtake our lives and drown us in abundance, we sometimes forget to do the hard things. Hard things like asserting rather than falling in line, executing rather than hiding, and persisting rather than pivoting.

There’s precisely nothing about running a company that comes natural or easy to people — don’t believe the lies. But it’s certainly manageable, and if it’s worth doing, it’s worth maintaining.

In the early days of Abernathy, I considered a long list of mostly irrelevant topics to ensure the best outcome for my budding media company. As time passes, I develop a much keener sense of what’s important.

Anxious preoccupations are wonderfully seductive, but healthy cashflow is a powerful tool to have if you’re serious about thriving.

The transgender bathroom debate provides a useful illustration of how modern society collides with tradition and culture. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legal across the nation before June 26th of 2015. African Americans couldn’t exercise their 15th amendment right to vote before 1965 — scarcely more than five decades ago.

We’re on the front lines of deciding what’s acceptable in our work, our nation, our states, and even much closer to home. We influence culture by the thoughts that we entertain, by the generosity we show, and by the kind of lives we choose to live.

Cynically, yes, much of our society is directed by institutions and bureaucrats that seem hopelessly unfit for the task. But we can still strive to be more excellent versions of ourselves if we see fit. We need good people passing laws and disrupting the status quo, no doubt, but we also need to be kind to ourselves.

…but it’s entirely possible that you’re dehydrated. Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve worked up a sweat and spent some time in quiet reflection.

Who knows how you might feel after you spend some time on the essentials.

Switch it up

03/04/2016

Until I moved back to New York last year, the math worked out to me changing cities roughly every six months. The reason for my frequent moves wasn’t so much about my actual location, but rather the mindset brought on my frequent change.

Put another way, I moved around to ensure that I never remained stagnant in my personal growth and evolution. But changing cities isn’t the only way to accomplish this, and certainly not the most convenient.

Yesterday, I rearranged my room. The energy is different, I love the change, and I keep thinking of improvements to further amplify this change. This flow of inspiration feels familiar, and it’s a nice reminder that the things we desire are often right there with us.

Our job, therefore, is less about striving to reach or become or achieve or accomplish…and more about remembering and rediscovering and revealing who and what and where we already are.

Early investments

03/02/2016

One of the turning points in my transition into adulthood was my involvement with the INROADS organization. INROADS is a non-profit that provides Fortune 500 internships for minority youth, and I grew into a capable leader as a result of the experience and professional development I received.

The older I get, the more I think back on those years and how I’m still able to draw from the experiences. This has been on my mind lately because of the piece I wrote about my friend Ivo and his work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

I’m grateful that so many people invested their time and energy, and that so many folks cared enough to put organizations and opportunities in place to lift up my generation. And so this is a thank you, of sorts, to the people who support our next generation of leaders.

They’re ready, and they need us.

In the moment

03/01/2016

I walk to the train every morning along a similar route. Sometimes I’ll switch it up—mostly out of some tinfoil hat paranoia I have about some nefarious character learning my routine and luring me into the back of a sketchy van with a promise of ice cream—and sometimes I won’t.

Separate from the variety I intentionally inject, I’ll also vary my route based on traffic. If I can avoid coming to a complete stop while still walking towards my destination, I will. In these moments, I’ll make a decision when I come to the intersection.

If I apply this same ad-hoc approach to scheduling my day, however, there will be significant consequences. I remember being of the age where many of my friends had jobs where the hours and shifts would change every week. Until the next week’s schedule was made, it was hard for them to make plans for the hours that could be taken up by a shift.

If I open my inbox every morning and allow that to dictate the flow of my day rather than planning that our ahead of time, it’s unlikely that I will accomplish much of consequence in the aggregate. Every decision made on the fly draws from the my finite well of attention.

When your work involves other people, as it almost certainly does, it’s downright irresponsible not to be intentional about the flow of your day. Some things are fine to schedule on the fly, and others are decidedly not. Protect your time.

Stunting

02/29/2016

As with any urban millennial, I fully appreciate the desire to prove detractors wrong—sometimes you’ve just gotta dab on ’em.

But using the bulk of your creative energy to invent ways of proving your father-in-law wrong (or trying to impress him) is a gross misappropriation of your brilliance.

What about the people you’re trying to serve and change? Are they getting your creative leftovers?

I think we can do better than that. Trust the process, stay focused, and dab when necessary.

Normalizing stupid

02/28/2016

“This might be a silly question, but…”

“That’s not a silly question at all”

A profoundly compassionate and subtle thing we can do for each other in conversations is to gently puncture notions of shame and fear that arise.

An example we often see is the “This might be a silly question, but…” preface to a question. It’s so commonplace that we rarely acknowledge it, but noticing it might be worth your time.

When we create a space for the underlying fears that direct the flow of our emotions to be seen for what they are—psychological suffering that can be overcome—we free ourselves to show up more fully and honestly in the moments when we’re fearful.

A quick “That’s not a silly question at all” before responding might be all that’s needed.

***

When I was a bright-eyed and clueless freshman at Florida State University, I used to correct friends of mine when they made mistakes around me. Typographical error? Not on my watch. Factual error, however trivial? I’m on the job—thank me later!

For me, the motivation to correct them was obvious: how could someone not want to know when they’re wrong about something? I wished more people pointed out my mistakes when I made them. I asked them to!

Sadly, this is not actually how humans work.

I learned that my habit of correcting people made them extremely uncomfortable. I was blind to the effects of my “goodwill” until some generous souls pointed out how the corrections made them feel. I hadn’t for a moment considered the possibility that there weren’t people who didn’t want to aggressively participate in their own personal development.

I was so naive.

What I was actually exhibiting was an act of breathtaking self-absorption. Not only did I assume that everyone thought about things like me, I proceeded with the solutions without their approval or consent. I did not, as it turns out, have all the answers.

***

Over time (and many re-readings of good books), I’ve learned how to better communicate with and relate to humans. I’ve noticed the ways in which fear and shame are baked into my own mental models and patterns of thought. I’ve observed how varying degrees of anxiety is crippling generations of leaders and thinkers and world-changers.

It’s sobering, and puts many of our perceived struggles in perspective: the suffering most people reading this post experience is psychological.

This realization—coming alive to me in ways that it never did before—helps me better understand a host of other things more clearly. Perhaps most closest to home, it helps me understand why so much of Seth’s writing is about fear and the lizard brain and the emotional component of business.

This is curious because Seth is one of the most frighteningly adept business minds I’ve ever encountered. I’m not into hero worship, but the man is a monster. And this mental dexterity is wrapped in an immense and unwavering kindness and generosity.

And contrasting this with my juvenile intentions as a 22 year-old undergrad crystallizes nearly a decade of learning that will continue to pay dividends as I continue to evolve.

Here’s to stupid questions.